Ofgas director-general Clare Spottiswoode has told PR Week she will
consider an investigation into claims that an anonymous campaign is
being waged against independent gas company United Gas, if ‘issues of
competition’ are shown to be at stake.
United Gas managing director Roger Turner, who called for an Ofgas
inquiry earlier this week, said he has sufficient evidence to prove this
is the case. Turner claimed that United Gas has suffered commercial loss
as a result of the campaign. He also plans to press the DTI to examine
According to Turner, information about United Gas was first sent
anonymously to national newspapers and the trade publication Gas Matters
in 1994. ‘All the journalists who came to us had clearly received the
same set of information,’ said Turner. ‘We explained our business
strategy on a confidential basis for commercial reasons. All but one
national newspaper respected that confidence.’
Peter Bryant, deputy chairman of United Gas parent company Utilicorp,
said one of the company’s joint venture partners decided not to proceed
with a project ‘directly as a result of the articles in one paper. The
relationship was seriously damaged. There were financial implications’.
Turner said he was hopeful United Gas would find out who had sent the
information. ‘At the moment it is not clear where the envelopes relating
to us came from,’ he said.
In a further twist this week it was revealed that an internal British
Gas memo, containing inaccurate assertions about United Gas, had been
leaked to the Labour Party - again by an unknown source.
British Gas PR adviser Angus Maitland has come under fire in the press
for handing a document criticising Ofgas director-general Clare
Spottiswoode to the Independent. Spottiswoode dismissed the criticisms
Maitland said he was not acting under a specific instruction from the
company in this instance, but that he regarded such briefings as part of
the normal work of a public relations consultant. ‘I have never sent in
documentation anonymously to a journalist - ever. They’ve always known
it has come from me,’ said Maitland.
A British Gas spokeswoman told PR Week: ‘There is no smear campaign
being run from British Gas.’ She added that the company was not in
possession of any information that would cause it to review its
relationship with Maitland.